Two years on and the effects of the pandemic are still being felt in the economy, the health sector, tourism, and people’s psychological well-being. Omicron has by far surpassed Delta and contagion cases are skyrocketing across the world. The most recent data has been showing that the majority of patients are recovering after being infected with the Omicron variant, so the scenario is not as grim as when Covid-19 first appeared but a level of uncertainty remains.
Will travel ever be the same? Many airlines struggled over the holiday period because several crew members had been infected. How about concerts and large events? The hospitality sector has braved two very challenging years full of constant changes in safety measures, reduction of personnel, the pressure of renewing itself to become more sustainable. At this time many ask a fundamental question: How to stay afloat, both mentally and financially, in these turbulent times?
Marie Audren was born in France and has lived in Brussels for a number of years. With extensive experience in EU public affairs, she served as Deputy Director General of spiritsEUROPE, the European association representing spirits producers. She has also worked as an adviser in the EU office of the French business federation, MEDEF. Since August 2020, Marie Audren is the Director General at HOTREC.
At the start of the new year, Ms. Audren speaks with Travel Tomorrow about the challenges the hospitality sector in Europe has been facing, the measures that are being taken, opportunities for employees to learn and grow, new digital tools, the outlook for 2022, and more.
In early December, HOTREC members gathered in Lyon for the 83rd General Assembly. They expressed concerns in view of potential further closures. What actions is HOTREC taking to help businesses navigate these turbulent times?
HOTREC and its members have been working relentlessly to support the European tourism and hospitality industry since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On the occasion of our 83rd General Assembly in Lyon last month, our members voiced their concerns over the worsened epidemiological situation. They agreed on the importance of further promoting ad hoc measures and actions to help save millions of businesses and workers. Said measures include offering businesses in the sector lower VAT rates and help viable companies avoid insolvencies by granting them access to capital and financing and extending loans reimbursement.
Coordination and cooperation at the EU level is essential. In this regard, we joined forces with industry partners multiple times over the last months to strengthen our common positions and asks.
Our extensive efforts to maintain a daily dialogue with the European Institutions and communicate the importance of prolonging support measures for as long as necessary also brought us some meaningful achievements last year and have been a central part of our efforts since the beginning of the crisis. In 2022, we will continue doing our best to make the voice and needs of our industry heard.
Between 2019’s Q3 and 2020’s Q3, there was a 10% drop of employment in the hospitality sector (an estimate of 1.5 million fewer jobs). How is HOTREC #TogetherForHospitality campaign trying to address this drop?
We launched our #TogetherForHospitality campaign at the beginning of April 2021 to raise the policy-makers awareness of the hardship that businesses and workers in our sector are experiencing due to Covid-19 and share what measures could help our industry survive and bounce back even better.
The ongoing staffing crisis is one of the most alarming issues that hospitality is confronting today. Through #TogetherForHospitality, we tried to step up our commitment to promoting the sector image. Our goal is to communicate that hospitality can be a career of choice and that tackling the lack of qualified personnel can strongly contribute to recovery.
European hospitality is an exciting, transversal and diverse industry. The sector can be an ideal entry door to the job market and offer precious opportunities for professional growth.
Now more than ever, hospitality establishments need a skilled workforce qualified to face the digital and green transition. Achieving this ambitious goal will require, among other things, offering a more dynamized promotion of career development, encouraging apprenticeships at the national level, and adapting education and training systems to the new technological changes and society demands. Relaunching the European Hospitality Skills Passport – an online tool that matches the sector employers with employees from across the EU looking for a job – could also significantly contribute to fighting the staffing crisis.
Within #TogetherForHospitality, HOTREC points out the importance of up-skilling and re-skilling of employees. Could you elaborate on this? How it could be done and what would be the impact of taking these actions?
We count on the Recovery and Resilience Facility to deploy the thousands of training that the sector needs to upskill and reskill its workforce.
About 30% of the hospitality personnel is usually low-skilled, thus meaning that employees in the sector need to develop a necessary set of skills to perform well in the workplace. At the same time, if we want to achieve a better quality of services, basic training will not suffice. Further improving the current staff skills will also be crucial.
What is clear so far is that hospitality businesses cannot deal with this colossal task alone. 90% of these companies are micro-enterprises, ill-equipped to tackle this issue without proper guidance, resources and funding. We, therefore, count on the Member States to develop joint public and private partnerships at the national level to offer the most needed training.
How does food sustainability play a role in HOTREC’s mission? Do you have launched some actions in regard to food waste for instance?
Promoting food sustainability in European hospitality is of the utmost importance for HOTREC, and we strongly encourage industry action in this field in line with the European Green Deal.
HOTREC has actively engaged in food waste prevention for years. In 2018, we issued guidelines to reduce food waste and recommendations to manage food donations in hospitality businesses. We also did our best to join the conversation on this relevant issue at the European level: today, we are active members of the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste and co-rapporteurs of the EU Recommendations for action in food waste prevention.
Our members’ support has been – and will continue to be – crucial in achieving our goals and remaining updated on the latest developments at the national level. We always encourage them to implement related measures in their countries and report on actions taken and best practices.
What is the importance of food and diet in the European hospitality sector? What’s HOTREC’s role in steering the policy behind these two points?
Consumers must have access to safe, healthy, high-quality and affordable food. The challenge is how to ensure that these needs are met for optimal health and well-being while protecting the environment and ensuring that the sector can develop its full growth potential, provide new jobs, and remain competitive in the global marketplace.
Being part of a sustainable food system – with affordable and high-quality food choices and decreased food and general waste as part of the day-to-day business – is the best option for the European hospitality industry.
This ambitious goal will require hospitality to promote informed consumer choices. Moreover, innovative measures will need to address any potential negative impact on the environment and climate change – including sustainability concerns linked to social, environmental, and economic change.
Recent surveys such as the FOOD barometer have revealed that new digital sales channels have given employees the possibility to continue ordering food from their favourite restaurants during the crisis. How are digital tools offering value and added flexibility to users? How such tools have constituted an alternative for restaurants during the lockdown period and with which impact?
During the pandemic – for some months and in some countries – most restaurants continued working thanks to food delivery or takeaway. From this point of view, the new digital sales proved to be very helpful.
Nevertheless, fees paid by the restaurants should not be too high. Otherwise, the final product sold to the consumer might become too expensive for this option to be affordable for businesses.
For this reason, we will work with the Council and the European Parliament in trying to make the Commission proposal for a Directive on platform work an instrument that serves the purposes of protecting workers, respects the willingness of the self-employed with regard to their status and does not heavily impact our sector in terms of mandatory social contributions.
Certain initiatives have been launched to try offer a boost to the hospitality sector in these difficult times. Some examples include programmes around the “titre restaurant” in various countries or the launch of the “titre consommation” in Belgium. What have been the results observed so far? Have you perceived some returns from such initiatives for your sector?
Our sector widely welcomed such initiatives as, in some cases and especially when establishments were closed, they had allowed businesses to continue taking place under specific conditions. Concretely, companies would sell vouchers, for customers to enjoy their meals or accommodation facilities at a later stage. Some countries (e.g. Slovenia) report this to be one of the best support measures taken at national level, as they brought liquidity to businesses at a time of major crisis (such as during a lockdown).
Roughly 2 million businesses of different sizes have weathered a tough holiday season. What is the outlook for the hospitality sector? What are the key areas of focus for HOTREC in 2022 and beyond?
The survival of businesses will be our number one priority in 2022. The heavy conditions that hospitality experienced over this holiday season show that Covid-19 is still threatening. Further closures and restrictions can create a vicious cycle that risks throwing many otherwise viable venues into insolvency first and permanent closure later.
Keeping supporting businesses in the sector at these difficult times will go hand-in-hand with our medium and long-term goals. The pace of the recovery will also depend on how hospitality will react to the challenge posed by the green and digital transition.
European hospitality must transition into a more innovative, digital and sustainable industry to remain competitive. It must turn this troublesome situation into an opportunity to find new strategies to deal with future crises and become more resilient. It needs a well-trained and motivated workforce to lead the way out of today’s hardship, and resourceful entrepreneurs willing to invest in the sector.
To conclude, we must not underestimate the central role that tourism and hospitality have within Europe’s economy, culture and society. Our industry has all the potential to significantly contribute to the overall economic recovery. If we keep holding on and continue bringing hope and support to hospitality, I am confident that a bright future will await us after the storm.